By Patricia Ngwale:
After graduating from Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) in 2017, Obed Gondwe did not set off on a job-hunting scheme.
The skills he had acquired when studying for his Bachelor of Science in Agribusiness degree was enough to drive him into tomato farming.
This was not what some of his friends, who looked forward to being employed somewhere, had expected from the youthful and bright graduate.
“When out of college, we must take bigger challenges,” Gondwe says. “Tobacco farming is challenging but profitable if you handle it well.”
According to the fulltime farmer, what he had gone through while pursuing his degree was enough to equip him with skills for identifying markets for his farm produce.
It also helps him to determine the correct time for growing tomato.
In essence, Gondwe is among hundreds of young graduates who are not waiting for white-collar jobs which, often without cause, demand that applicants have hands-on experience.
Luanar, through its industry-oriented programmes, is contributing to the growth of Malawi’s economy by providing skills to its graduates, who in turn venture into their own businesses.
“We place particular emphasis on entrepreneurship to change the mindset of the youth so that they no longer think of getting employed. They should employ themselves and others,” Head of Agribusiness Management at the university, Sera Gondwe, says.
She adds that the push for change of mindset resulted in an arrangement that every student who goes through the agriculture and natural resources-focused university should pursue an entrepreneurship course.
“Agribusiness management is particularly crucial for a country like Malawi, whose economy is agro-based. Young people must get the skills the time they leave college,” Gondwe states.
To ensure those who study at Luanar are equipped with not only theoretical but also practical knowledge, their instructors offer entrepreneurship lessons for three good semesters while the students pursue other courses.
The institution, in its quest to support the nation’s agenda of improving youth employment prospects, is leading in offering experiential youth-focused training programmes through its departments of Agribusiness Management, Human Ecology and an innovation and incubation centre dubbed Agribiz.
Research shows Malawi’s population is predominantly youthful due to the country’s high fertility rate experienced over the past years.
This means the number of people entering the labour market keeps increasing, thus there is a need to promote initiatives that contribute to youth development.
Agribiz Hub Operations Coordinator, Felix Maulidi, says the hub, through which Luanar supports innovative ideas, should also significantly help in creating wealth for entrepreneurs, communities and the economy at large.
“This is done through offering co-creation space, training, coaching, mentoring and business development services to support entrepreneurs to set up and grow businesses in the field of agriculture,” Maulidi says.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (Fao) supports such initiatives when it says “investing in youth and empowering young agri-entrepreneurs to invest responsibly in their farms and businesses are fundamental to achieve many Sustainable Development Goals”.
“High rates of youth unemployment, especially in rural areas, require determined policy responses to stimulate economic growth,” Fao says in its 2020 ‘Empowering Young Agri-entrepreneurs to Invest in Agriculture and Food Systems’ publication.
And according to Maulidi, the hub, which has over 80 young people across the country, targets to work with those with business ideas and micro, small and medium enterprises, connecting Luanar researchers with stakeholders to commercialise innovations.
“These ones are refining their business ideas and reshaping their businesses as they undergo the hub’s competency based business development journey,” he says.
Maulidi further states that the hub provides access to facilities within the university including expertise and experience in crop and animal production, agro-processing, market and feasibility research, innovative thinking and business management, among other areas.
It is expected that the young people who get the skills will competently improve their businesses and even employ others in the pursuit to steadily close the yawning employment gap in Malawi.
Apart from those in the hub, whoever learns the entrepreneurship skills offered in three solid semesters at Luanar would choose to keep a white-collar job at bay.